Guide Star Alliance receives OSA Engineering Award

Laser Guide Star project leaders Domenico Bonaccini Calia (ESO) and Wilhelm Kaenders (Toptica) and Wallace Clements (MPBC; source: Berthold Leibinger Foundation)

The Optical Society announced that the Guide Star Alliance will be rewarded with the 2017 Paul F. Forman Team Engineering Excellence Award. Under contract of and in close collaboration with the European Southern Observatory ESO, industrial partners, Toptica Photonics and MPB Communications, joined together to develop a high-power CW tunable guide star laser system called the SodiumStar. The team’s development is now considered the quasi-standard for existing and planned telescopes around the world. The Guide Star Alliance will receive the award on Sept. 18, 2017 during “Frontiers in Optics (FiO) + Laser Science (LS)” in Washington DC (USA). Wilhelm Kaenders (Toptica), Wallace Clements (MPBC) and Daoping Wei (MPBC) will accept the award on behalf of the team.

“I have been highly impressed by the outstanding professionalism and expertise of the Toptica / MPBC team,” said Corinne Boyer, adaptive optics group leader of the Thirty Meter Telescope (USA). “The result is a ‘first class’ sodium laser now available for the entire adaptive optics community.”

Inside the UT4 of the Very Large Telescope, part of the Adaptive Optics Facility, the Four Laser Guide Stars Facility, point to the skies during the first observations using the MUSE instrument. The sharpness and dynamic range of images using the AOF-equipped MUSE instrument will dramatically improve future observations. (Source: R. Bacon / ESO)

Maxime Boccas, head of maintenance, support and engineering at the European Southern Observatory (Chile), described the laser as being “the greatest achievement in astronomic instrumentation of the last ten years.”

After seven years of development, the SodiumStar is now recognized as a core technology for the next generation of earth-based telescopes. It was already recognized with an innovation award of the Berthold Leibinger Foundation in 2016.

The sodium laser system creates an artificial guide star that serves to measure and remove image blurring due to the earth’s atmosphere. The laser system has been optimized to provide efficient power conversion, wavelength stability, excellent beam quality and high photon return. Its generic Raman fiber amplifier technology (licensed from ESO) allows scaling of the single-frequency output power to highest levels while preserving the beam quality. Apart from basic astronomical research, this laser system will leverage ground-based approaches to space debris tracking and remediation using lasers as well as ground-to- satellite laser communications. (Source: Toptica)

Reference: M. Enderlein, W. G. Kaenders (representing the teams of the European Southern Observatory ESO, Toptica Photonics AG and MPB Communications Inc.): Sodium Guide Star (R)Evolution: A novel sodium guide star laser enables next-generation adaptive optics for ground-based astronomy, Optik Photonik 11(5), p. 31 (December 2016); DOI: 10.1002/opph.201600038

Links: TOPTICA Photonics AG, Graefelfing, GermanyLaser Guide Stars Facility 4LGF, Very Large Telescope UT4, Paranal Observatory, European Southern Observator, Garching, Germany • FiO/LS – Frontiers in Optics / Laser Science conference, The Optical Society

Further Reading: Cutting-Edge Adaptive Optics Facility Sees First Light,, 24th August 2017Sodium Guide Star (R)Evolution,, 21st December 2016Four Innovations and One Future Prize,, 12th September 2016

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